Creative Zen Vision:M review

Price when reviewed

Life, as this new 30GB portable media player from Creative proves, isn’t fair. Its most obvious competition, the latest video-capable iPod, has fewer features, supports fewer media formats, plays video on battery for half as long, doesn’t work with any subscription-based music service and generally underperforms compared with the Zen Vision:M. But the pretty-boy iPod gets all the attention.

Creative Zen Vision:M review

Despite being twice as fat as the 30GB iPod, the lacquered front – available in black, white, green, pink and blue – and pearlescent back give this player a kooky charm. After only a few days, though, ours became scratched.

Navigating the interface is relatively easy. You page through menus by running your thumb up and down the vertical touchpad, and confirm selections by tapping it. It’s a decent system, although it does take some getting used to; you’re liable to find yourself skipping past intended entries for the first few days.

The other buttons – which are blue-backlit when active – control play/pause, allow you to navigate back up through menus, call up a context-sensitive menu of options, and launch an action you specify. This shortcut button is a great idea, but it’s limited to performing one task; we’d rather have been able to define a brief menu of shortcuts.

The ‘right-click’ button works well – we particularly like the option of finding other tracks by the currently playing artist – although its placement requires an uncomfortable contortion of the thumb. The interface is customisable; you can pick from themes, use your own picture as wallpaper and change the options shown in the main menu.

Despite sub-PDA capabilities courtesy of Outlook synchronisation, this is still primarily a media player. Audio quality, when teamed with third-party headphones, is superb; just note that the supplied earbuds have limited range.

It can play DivX and XviD movies, as well as the WMV9, MPEG1/2/4-SP and Motion-JPEG formats. But beware: in our testing, we often found that movies in our library used codecs just different enough to baffle the Zen Vision:M. Indeed, it’s not DivX certified, so prepare to use the bundled software to convert movies to a Zen-friendly WMV variant. Not surprisingly, there’s no direct way to rip commercial DVDs.

The screen is bright, packs bags of contrast and, while it can be a little over-zealous with the saturation, it doesn’t spoil the experience. Battery life is also superb. We got just over the quoted four hours’ video playback, while audio-only clocks in at around 14 hours.

The box carries the PlaysForSure logo, ensuring a smooth ride with Windows Media Player and DRM9-protected content. The Zen Vision:M doesn’t play audio or video content from the iTunes Music Store, though, nor does it currently support audio books from Audible.

It costs £31 more than the 30GB iPod – the only capacity of the Zen Vision:M – but while Apple’s player still has the edge for sheer elegance, this is a much more flexible system. The battery life is good, the screen gorgeous and the interface a cinch. Add in WMA compatibility, the FM radio, voice recorder and virtual keyboard for searching your menus, and it’s clear that for many this is a better choice than an iPod.

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